- Associated Press - Monday, May 7, 2018

Mankato Free Press, May 3

GOP: A political party owned by Trump

The U.S. Senate candidacy of Richard Painter is more notable for what it says about the Republican Party than for what it tells us about the DFL, the party whose nomination Painter seeks.

Painter’s credentials as a Democrat are slender, to say the least. The University of Minnesota law professor, a self-described “centrist,” has identified himself for some 30 years as a Republican, and served in the George W. Bush administration as the White House ethics lawyer.

But when the prominent “NeverTrump” spokesman decided to seek office himself, it wasn’t as a Republican, but as a Democrat.

To be sure, Painter has adopted positions that fit well with the DFL, or at least with the metro-area liberal wing of the party: he favors universal health care, opposes copper-nickel mining, and advocates campaign finance reform.

But his rationale for running is his opposition to President Donald Trump, and to that end he promises not to attack his DFL rival, appointed Sen. Tina Smith.

Painter’s party switch is indicative of Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party. The senators Trump vanquished in the GOP nomination battle in 2016 - Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham - have all fallen in line despite having previously denounced him as dangerously unqualified. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, two mainstream conservative senators who object to Trump’s bombastic style and at least some of his policies (notably immigration) opted against seeking re-election.

The Republican establishment - the advocates of free trade, muscular foreign policy alliances and deficit reduction - has surrendered. The more centrist faction of the Republican caucus in the House is retiring in droves. The “NeverTrump” faction of the Republicans may be vocal, but they aren’t running for office, not as Republicans.

The immediate future of the Grand Old Party has, for better or worse, been ceded to Trump. And the longer the party goes without a credible internal challenge to his nationalist themes, the longer it will take for it to find its way back to what it was.


Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 4

U.S. shouldn’t wage a two-front trade war

President Donald Trump has embarked on a dangerous, high-risk strategy that is jeopardizing U.S. trade relations around the world, and there is little reason to think he can pull it off.

His negotiating tactics so far have been painfully obvious. He sought to create an artificial pressure point by staking out dramatic positions, followed by threats - in this case, punishing tariffs on foreign steel, aluminum and other products. Then he opened a window - a temporary exemption during which he doubtless expected to easily win concessions.

But it didn’t work out that way. Europe, Canada, Mexico - all long-standing trading partners and allies - have balked at negotiating under threat. As the deadline for the exemption approached, it was the Trump administration that blinked, offering another 30 days.

“This should not happen between allies,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in an address to the European Parliament. The E.U. is now demanding a permanent exemption from steel and aluminum tariffs before negotiating. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently said Europe is “resolved to defend its interests within the multilateral trade framework.” That is diplomacy-speak for signaling that if Trump wants a trade war, he’ll get one.

Meanwhile, NAFTA remains unsettled, despite Trump’s demands for a final agreement by mid-May. Trump has also taken a hard line on China, with even less to show for it. Two days of talks in Beijing abruptly broke down on Friday, with no new talks scheduled. China has already virtually shut down its purchase of U.S. soybeans, a gut-punch to Minnesota farmers just as they are about to sow their spring crops. Beijing has warned the U.S. not to set preconditions on trade talks nor expect China to make major concessions on core interests. Like Europe, they consider their economy strong enough to withstand a trade war.

What this country needs to ask itself is whether it is so prepared. Certainly, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross seems to think so. Just before talks began, he said China had more to lose in a trade war than the U.S. Even more arrogant was the statement of top trade adviser Peter Navarro, who noted that although discussions were taking place in China, decisions would be made in Washington.

That kind of bombast may satisfy Trump’s tough-guy urges, but it’s unlikely to produce the win he seeks. The world of international trade is a delicate balance of competing interests among sovereign nations. Legitimate complaints exist about the disadvantages under which some American businesses must operate in foreign countries.

China’s lax intellectual property practices rank high on that list. But successful negotiations usually require more finesse than force. Trump’s hasty and ill-considered withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could have acted as a counterweight to China, has actually reduced U.S. leverage.

If Trump truly wants to take a hard line against China, this might not be the best time to alienate Europe and other allies with tariffs or quotas that could wind up boomeranging against American businesses and consumers. China is the world’s second-largest economy and rising fast. If he wants to fight that trade war, he’ll need friends.

“None of us would defend China’s trading practices,” said Perry Aasness, executive director of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council. “We’d all like to see some changes. But there is a great deal of risk in the way this is being pursued. The consequences for trade could be very dramatic.”


Mesabi Daily News, May 5

Fighting the fire within

For every traumatic call, there’s a firefighter that turns to the bottle or lets the burning emotional damage burn within them, leading many others to suicide. They’re the outcomes Virginia Fire Chief Allen Lewis has heard about Minnesota departments, and his own.

Russ Carlson, a firefighter in Virginia, was granted workman’s compensation by the city as he battled post-traumatic stress disorder. It took him almost nine months on the job to realize a January call triggered his PTSD and was preventing him from doing his job.

He’s one of the rare few of the local heroes in red to take such an action. Carlson is supported, he said, by Lewis, who was standing by his side during a recent mental health forum hosted by Sen. Tina Smith’s office.

As a member of the MnFIRE Initiative, Lewis is on the administrative front lines of battling mental health issues for statewide fire departments. Studies, according to MnFIRE, have shown firefighters are at an increased risk of PTSD and subsequent triggers than the general population and discharged war veterans.

It becomes a worse problem for volunteer firefighters that have limited resources like workman’s compensation to take the time and treat their issues. There’s also the tough-guy stigma firefighters need to overcome.

The work of MnFIRE is invaluable and the acceptance of PTSD as a mental illness on equal standing with physical illness is a major step in improving mental health and cutting down on substance abuse and suicide rates among first responders.

But firefighters are just one example of the internal fire burning with those afflicted with mental health issues. Millions across the country battle anxiety, depression and PTSD. Many of them did not go to war or into burning buildings, but their struggle remains equally as important.

Good mental health care is a critical piece of the puzzle in Minnesota, where substance abuse has developed into a epidemic and suicide rates remain an issue in need of addressing.

Raising awareness to the importance mental health is a start. The state needs more initiatives like MnFIRE and more leaders like Lewis to recognize the importance of tearing down the walls of stigmas. It also needs more brave people like Russ Carlson to tell their story and lead by example in breaking stereotypes and social personas.

The more communities understand and accept mental illness, the easier it will be for those fighting their internal fires.

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